A blog about Hudson, New York

Monthly Archives: January 2011

I Woke Up Planning

“I’d love to be the mayor of this town,” an acquaintance from the city, an architect on his first trip here, once told me. “It would be really fun.”  I never saw him in these parts again but immediately recognized the bug: There’s definitely something about Hudson that brings out the urban designer/enlightened bureaucrat in a person, even in those who only stay for a day. What’s exciting about the town for those who think about these things is that it’s all here — preserved, reclaimed, and alive — but not yet all “there,”  impeded as it is by visible examples of civic stasis and inertia,  like the snow banks in front of the shops on Warren Street.

Feeling somewhat snowed in myself, I’ve been thinking about these kinds of city planning issues, and now, channeling my inner Baron Haussmann, will wade into an area covered by bloggers such as Hudson Urbanism‘s Matthew Fredericks (an architect, urban designer, and published author) and Gossips of Rivertown‘s Carole Osterink (so expert in and committed to the subject that she could easily teach it at MIT).

Woody Allen once said that relationships were like sharks; they needed to keep moving  forward or they die. This is something that also holds true about towns.  Here are a few of my ideas to keep the shark moving.

Start a Hudson Redevelopment Corporation

This is inspired by two different kinds of governmental initiatives: Robert F Kennedy’s Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, one of the first in the nation to emphasize preservation and good design, and the endeavors of towns such as Pittsfield, Mass.,  which have focused on culture as a prime engine of economic development, assisting in endevours such as  the renovation of an old vaudeville theater for the  Barrington Stage company.  The purpose of this agency, a joint public and private enterprise, would be to raise money and target strategic places for appropriate and expedited development, chosen for the maximum positive effect to the local economy.  Here are some of the reasonably scaled things that it could get going, once it’s up and running:

Restoration of the Seventh Street Park

photo courtesy of Carole Osterink

Only the most radical tea partier would say that parks are not the government’s responsibility, and this centrally located one is, in its present state,  badly in need of attention. Even in these times of drastic cutbacks, it’s hard to believe that financing couldn’t be found to bring it back to its former glory. (Or, in lieu of that, what if we all got together and pulled out some ungainly fences and shrubs?–under proper supervision, of course.)

The Opera House Auditorium

Due to the valiant efforts of the folks at the Hudson Opera House, Warren Street’s most noteworthy building has been terrifically restored; now the city should jump in and do what it can to get the theater at it its heart back into full use. Let’s just sit back for a moment and consider what life would be like if this grand space was finally renovated and brought back to life — as a venue for shows like Next to Normal or Spring Awakening or even more modestly, as a Town Hall–like concert/lecture hall for a Hudson Film Festival, a live episode of  A Prairie Home Companion, or a performance by the Juilliard String Quartet?

Finding My Bliss (Tower)

There has been a lot of thinking (most of it unofficial) about what to do with this ungainly relic of 70s urban renewal, including even keeping and renovating it, which is my least favorite. It seems that if anything will be done at all, it will be demolition of the building and replacement with town houses, perhaps like the ones at Crosswinds; hardly the worst outcome but not exactly inspiring. My idea:  clear the lot and use it to relocate endangered historic (or even merely quaint) houses currently stranded on the busy highways of Columbia County, restoring them (or sell them to be restored)  for affordable housing , i.e. not as museum pieces  but with some feeling and respect for the past (no aluminum siding allowed). This could weave a genuine neighborhood fabric back into the eviscerated Second Ward, tie the block back into the already existing housing stock on State Street and to the town as a whole, save some worthy buildings around the county, and recycle instead of build from scratch. (The fact that it might all look really good in the end  isn’t something to sneeze at either.)  Call it the Genuine Old New Urbanism. Pictured below is one of  the orphaned buildings that could be moved to the site.— Scott Baldinger

Baked Goods

It was exciting to hear this past week that the online marketplace Etsy would be locating a branch to the Cannonball Factory in Hudson, bringing a major business success story and dozens of jobs to the town. As Sam Pratt eloquently stated on his web site, SamPratt.com, the news was confirmation that “if City residents kept steadily building upon Hudson’s unique history and architectural fabric, protected its community character, maintained an active main street full of locally-owned businesses, and took advantage of Hudson’s terrific location, the possibilities for attracting greener, more forward-looking businesses was boundless. Great businesses want to locate to great towns.”

Etsy founder and CEO Rob Kalin’s decision also means new life for a restored historic building, and extends the string of handsomely readapted, fully utilized brick structures (Helsinki Hudson and the Musica building)  that now enliven a once forlorn stretch of Columbia Street. With light and life  in and around them, each of them is –or soon will be –beautiful to behold. Just in case any other prospective entrepreneurs are thinking of following the visionary Kalin’s lead, I’d like to point out a few other favorite brick buildings in town, all currently in a weird state of cold (indeed, at the moment, frigid) storage and in need of a bevy of  warm, creative bodies to put them to use. Note to potential buyers: Feel free to appropriate any forthcoming ideas as your own:

The Boarded Up Train Station:

Astride CSX  train tracks  at Seventh and State,  this structure, its filigreed cast iron ornament still intact, would be a  great place for a restaurant,  perhaps called  “Depot”  or “Freight.”

The Bricked Up Former Allen Street School

With it’s great views of the Hudson and the Catskill mountains,  this 1902 building would be a fitting site for a weekend retreat-type spa, which I think it was being considered for at one time. Or how about a far northern branch of Bard’s Graduate Center for the Decorative Arts ?

The Pocketbook Factory

This place is huge and, thanks to owner Eleanor Ambos, still looking pretty damn good.  (Someone should rebuild the the tower, though, seen in its truncated present form on the left side of the picture.)  How about…an even farther northern branch of Bard’s Graduate Center for the Decorative Arts?

The Grand Residential Building

Restored into apartments, this structure at Union and Fifth Street could be named “The Second Empire.”    –Scott Baldinger

On the Books

The historic building in which it is housed, a former almshouse/orphanage/mental institution built in 1817, may still have a Dickensian cast. But  the  Hudson Area Library (at 400 State Street) may be the town’s most valuable and, yes, up- to- date cultural resource. There are a lot of reasons for this, among them the worthy educational services it provides to the community (a random sampling from this week’s schedule include “Adult Computer Classes,”  “Adult Introduction to Spanish”, and “Children Story and Craft Hour…”)  and the History Room, a repository of  images and ephemera from Hudson’s visually edifying past.

My favorite, however, particularly since I live right across the street, is the ability to order books and media online from home, accessing the 90 branches from the  mid Hudson library system.  Hear about something on NPR,  go to your computer, and bamm!—before you know it (ok, in a few days) you’ll be getting that smokey voice on the phone informing you that your copy of When Engulfed in Flames,  Freedom, or what have you  “will be at the front desk.”   Although I hear that systems like this are fairly routine these days, I still find it a wonderfully novel amenity, particularly when the library in question is so centrally located in so small a town. (Some of the other great reading experiences I’ve had recently thanks to various participating lenders: Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat, Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, David Nichols’s One Day, and Hot Times in the Old Town, a historical account of the deadly New York heat wave of 1896,  a perfect ghoulish counterpoint to recent blizzard-bound winter nights.)

There are other aspects pleasantly surprising to a former city slicker like myself:  The overdue fee is still only 10 cents a day, the hours are good given these days of shrinking services (every day except Sundays and Mondays; Saturdays til 3); and just in case you’ve  forgotten to pay your cable bill,  there is a bank of nine new computers with free internet access to chose from. For those who have made the switch to reading on computers, the library has  just introduced an e Books service, making them available on pc’s and portable devices such as Nooks, I Phones etc – everything except the Kindle at the moment. Soon enough we all may be wondering: why leave the house til Spring?  –Scott Baldinger

All in the Family

A lot of things might come to mind when thinking of Hudson but, chances are, quality clothing for infants and young children is not one of them. The squeaky clean truth behind the town’s  glamorously gritty surface, however,  is that a number of stores here are doing well in this surprisingly creative niche market, demonstrating  how diverse and vital a stretch of retail Warren Street really is.

What I know about baby’s clothes you can fit into the toe of a pair of Dr Dentons  (anyone remember those?), but here goes:   Devoted entirely to wear for wee ones, the recently opened The Bee’s Knees ( 302 Warren Street) specializes in locally made items such as tops with wool vintage fabric ($35-$150),  organic cotton onesies,  and fly-looking jump suits (hoodies with pants, pictured bottom left  $12.95 to $24).   White Rice (531 Warren Street) has a children’s section that is a cottage industry all it own, with onesies made of sustainable bamboo fabric (instead of  similarly textured Rayon, which, according to co-owner Mary Vaughn Williams,  is made from wood; $28);  cashmere socks ($9 a pair); and hand-stamped Batik vintage- style shorts (above right. $20).  At de Marchin (620 Warren Street), a favorite item is MaryJane Trumpette socks in the form of fashionable looking shoes (bottom right, $26 for a box of 6).  –Scott Baldinger

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